guillaume savaton - au mouvant sillage


5 reasons why I write free software

Guillaume Savaton

Sozi is a zooming presentation tool that I have been developing for five years in my spare time. Sozi is free software. It has gathered some enthusiastic and faithful users, and I usually receive very positive feedback.

However, people do not always realize that Sozi is mainly the work of a single person with the help of several contributors. There is no company behind it, no structured development team, no professional-grade support, and no ambition to gain market shares.

In this article, I will try to clarify my motivations for developing Sozi.

For me

Some call it eating your own dog food. The main reason why I develop Sozi is that I am a user myself.

Sozi started as an experiment to see whether it was possible to create Prezi-like presentations using open standards. I realized that I was not satisfied with slideshow software and I worked to transform Sozi into an actual presentation tool that I could use.

While I am always disposed to improve Sozi, I tend to focus on the features that I actually need. Maybe you will find it selfish, but the time I can spend developing, testing and maintaining Sozi is limited, so I need to set priorities. For me, the top priority goes to features that I use regularly, because I have a natural environment to test them, and a strong incentive to fix their bugs.

As a counter-example, let me mention the Sozi media extension that allows to add video or audio to a Sozi presentation. This is a feature that I have never used in any of my presentations. I accepted to implement it because a user convinced me to do so and provided enough technical information so that I could integrate it rapidly. However, since I never use it, I do not feel concerned about it; I do not take care to check for regressions when upgrading the rest of Sozi; I do not notice bugs when they happen. This is a sad situation.

I understand that you can feel disappointed if I do not implement a feature request that you proposed. I prefer to encourage other contributors to join and develop features that they care about.

For you

While I develop Sozi for my own use, I believe it can be useful for other people. I also believe that diversity is a good thing. When Sozi was released in 2010, the only other free SVG-based presentation tool was JessyInk. JessyInk is slide-oriented, but it also supports zoomable views. So we can consider that Sozi was among the first attempts to create an alternative to Prezi using open standards.

From the beginning, it was obvious that Sozi would be free software. All the tools that I use to develop Sozi are free software, so publishing Sozi under a free license is my way to contribute to the free software ecosystem and give back what I receive from the community.

The source code of Sozi is available from a public repository. As a consequence, you are not only a user of Sozi, but also a potential participant in its development:

For fame

Like everybody else, I appreciate positive feedback and messages of gratitude for my work. Getting recognition is part of the motivations for people to publish their work on the web today, I suppose.

If I was really seeking fame, I would try to communicate more and better, make Sozi more visible, and make sure that my name is always associated with it. But actually, I usually prefer to spend time coding than advertising Sozi. I waited until this year to present it in an international event. The rest of the time, I do the minimum and let things happen.

So, if Sozi has gained some visibility over the years, this is mainly due to some nice initiatives from the community, such as listing Sozi at alternativeto.net, writing an article in the French Wikipedia, and publishing tutorials an reviews on YouTube and in various blogs.

For money

So you noticed these Flattr, Bitcoin and Donate buttons at the top of the web site of Sozi, didn’t you?

At the time of this writing, I have earned a total amount of 91.74€ from 52 Flattr users since I created my account in 2010. It is not a lot, but even a micro-donation shows that someone, somewhere, finds my work useful. Many thanks to all of you, who clicked that Flattr button, for your support!

I personally do not donate to the developers of every free software that I use, so I do not expect to receive donations from all users of Sozi as well. As a result, Sozi will probably not make me rich.

Edit: I realize that this section could be misinterpreted. Actually, I am quite satisfied with what I earn in my current job. I am not asking you to give me a complementary income in exchange for my work. Please consider that these donations can help me pay costs related to the development of Sozi, such as the hosting service for the web site of Sozi.

For fun

Programming has been a passion since the age of 14. I like to solve problems, learn new languages, discover new technologies. And the web has made this activity even more fun: creating and sharing code has never been so easy.

I develop Sozi because I enjoy doing it.

But there are many other things that I could do in my spare time, than coding, fixing bugs and helping users. I believe that I have no obligation to keep developing and maintaining a piece of software if I don’t find it interesting or enjoyable. If it becomes boring, or if I feel that my family life suffers from it, I will reconsider my involvement, hoping that someone else can follow up.

This has not happened yet :-)